Stacey Goldfarb: Boulder Government, Wake Up!

This article has been submitted to the Daily Camera as a Guest Opinion, but the Daily Camera has so far refused to publish it.

A Boulder pro-growth advocate regularly tweets, “If you love your City, you should build more of it.”

That’s like saying, “If you love your 15 children, have 15 more.  If you love candy bars, eat hundreds.”

Analogies aside, the tweeter’s perspective seems at odds with the reality of our finite world and ecosystem.  My field was science.  Science everywhere confirms finite limits of: resources, amount of carbon our atmosphere can handle, and the population a bioregion can sustain.

The tweeter’s attitude reminds me of the anti-science fringe wing of Congress, which doesn’t accept science or facts.  More disturbingly, Boulder government demonstrates a similar disregard for facts and limits.  Our City government refuses to say how many more people they plan to draw to Boulder.  The “silence from the top,” is deafening.

No wonder citizens are uneasy.  We look to our civic leaders, but hear only the policy equivalent of “More, more, more!”

In a related story, Boulder government has, for years, quietly pushed a hyper-aggressive economic development policy.  Meaning, their “more, more, more” policy is nowhere more true than in their incessant courting of ever more commercial growth and major employers.

Of course communities need good jobs.  But Boulder demonstrates a total inability to achieve a healthy, sustainable balance.  We’ve completely overshot the mark.  We have 104,000 jobs. Meanwhile, only around 70,000 of Boulder’s residents are of actual workforce age (not in K-12 schools, or retired).  These excess jobs explain over half of Boulder’s 60,000 daily in- commuters.

Why does this matter?  A major excess of jobs and in-commuters greatly increases housing pressure and prices.  This, in turn, leads City leaders to consider plans to repeal Boulder’s height limit, densify neighborhoods by up zoning and stuffing more and more people into them, pushing the City to try and annex surrounding open space lands for housing. Think Twin Lakes.

Palo Alto’s mayor recently expressed regret over the number of jobs created by tech companies there, which have contributed to median home prices of $2.5 million.

Boulder’s government has actively fueled our problem.  I hope they arrive at a better, wiser posture than, “Well, let’s just house 60,000 more people…that’s it! That’ll fix our in-commuter problem.”

The problem is, when we continue to deny limits, and balance, it won’t just be 60,000.  It’ll be 120,000 or 180,000 more residents, if Boulder refuses to ease off the accelerator of aggressive economic development and recruitment.  Further, and counter-intuitively, housing supply-side theory doesn’t work, in inelastic demand markets like Boulder’s. Building more primarily just yields more high priced housing, without fixing anything. (Think: Eastpointe development)  And Boulder’s deeply flawed affordable housing formula which requires many additional luxury units, to fund a few affordable units.

With Boulder’s affordability challenges, you’d think Boulder would tap the brakes on ultra high-end economic development. Instead, Boulder actively courted a Google headquarters – absolutely bizarre, given our housing issues.  Didn’t Boulder notice the housing price spikes Google and other high tech presences created in Mountain View, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Venice Beach, CA?  And get this, Boulder didn’t even charge Google affordable housing impact fees!

Many existing residents are rightfully dismayed. Because now, Council is telling quiet single family neighborhoods they’re responsible for fixing the problem: “Low density neighborhoods must be up zoned to high density!” People who simply want a quiet, sane existence in low density single family neighborhoods, must now have 15 person “Animal House” co-ops next door (see, Picklebric co-op).  All to fix the City’s self-created “crisis.”

I urge Boulder citizens to realize the very unbalanced underlying dynamics that have created our current situation.  Tell the City to ease off its active courting of ever more jobs and high tech companies.  And companies that do come should be charged impact fees equivalent to the problems they exacerbate, specifically affordable housing and city infrastructure demand.

Lacking any clear, articulate solution from City government, we can only conclude that Boulder has no plan.  Except to keep stuffing more people into Boulder, and asking all residents to accept more traffic, congestion, noise, big-city problems, and, quite possibly, repealing our height limits and building on Open Space.

All Boulderites should reject this. Tell City Council they should fix the problem they’ve created, beginning by realizing “we’re good,” on the job front, and easing off the gas.  Tell Council it’s time they recognize carrying capacity, and what happens when a bioregion or community exceeds it.

The question is, will Boulder have the courage to bring things back into balance, by limiting non-residential (i.e., commercial) growth?

Stacey Goldfarb, Boulder, Colorado

2 thoughts on “Stacey Goldfarb: Boulder Government, Wake Up!”

  1. Is anybody reading this a Strong Towns ( member or reader? This sounds so much like an economic disaster in the making. Build new today, run out of money to maintain the expanded infrastructure (roads, sewers, water mains, etc.) tomorrow (15 to 40 years, give or take).

    1. Fantastic article Stacey. So clear and concise. Enough with the cancerous greed-fueled policy making. Each place must be looked at uniquely, as its own limits and environmental boundaries are as diverse as the lands that dictate them.

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